British Journal of Nutrition

Assay and digestion of labelled tannis

Assay and digestion of 14C-labelled condensed tannins in the gastrointestinal tract of sheep

T. H. Terrilla1 p1, G. C. Waghorna2, D. J. Woolleya3, W. C. Mcnabba1 p2 and T. N. Barrya1

a1 Department of Animal Science, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

a2 AgResearch Grasslands, Private Bag 11008, Palmerston North, New Zealand

a3 Department of Plant Science, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand


Three experiments were conducted to determine the fate of condensed tannins (CT) during digestion in sheep. CT were measured as extractable, protein-bound and fibre-bound fractions using the butanol-HCI procedure. In Expt 1, purified CT were added to digesta from different parts of the digestive tract obtained from a pasture-fed sheep. Recoveries of CT after 0 and 4 h of anaerobic incubation at 39° averaged: rumen 78.9 and 57.5 %; abomasum 50.9 and 49.0 %; duodenum 64.4 and 46.0 % and ileum 43.4 and 38.8%. In Expt 2, [14C]CT was given per abomasum over a 6.5 h period at 15 min intervals to a sheep previously fed on Lotus pedunculatus (which contains CT). The sheep was killed at the end of the period and 92.4% of the label was recovered. Virtually all of the label was in the digesta, and none was detected in the blood, so that the CT-carbon appeared not to be absorbed from the small intestine. In Expt 3, rumen, abomasal and ileal digesta and faeces samples from sheep fed on Lotus pedunculatus were analysed for CT and CT flow along the digestive tract calculated from reference to indigestible markers. Values were low in all digesta samples, indicating disappearance of CT across the rumen and small intestine, and CT recovery in faeces was only about 15% of intake. However, the 14C results from Expt 2 suggested that little if any CT-carbon was absorbed and the low recoveries in Expt 1 are considered to be a consequence of either conformational changes to the CT molecule such that it is no longer detectable by colorimetric methods, an inability of the analytical method to release bound CT for the butanol–HCI assay, or interference from other digesta constituents. It is concluded that the butanol–HCI method of CT analysis is appropriate for quantifying CT in herbages but not in digesta or faeces, and that a substantial part of CT released during protein digestion in the small intestine may not be detectable by normal CT analytical methods.

(Received June 22 1993)

(Revised December 09 1993)

(Accepted January 14 1994)


p1 Fort Valley State College, Fort Valley, CA 31030, USA.

p2 AgResearch Grasslands, Private Bag 11008, Palmerston North, New Zealand.


† For reprints.